IN THE MATTERS OF: New Hanover County
Nos. 06 JT 38-39
K.S.E. and B.N.E.
This appeal arises from the trial court's order to terminate Respondent-mother's parental rights. Because the record shows that the trial court's findings of fact are supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence; the findings of fact support the conclusions of law; and the trial court properly determined that the termination of parental rights is in the best interest of the child, we affirm the order of termination.
On 21 June 2001, New Hanover County Department of Social Services (DSS) filed a petition alleging that K.S.E. and B.N.E. were abused, neglected, and dependent juveniles. DSS claimed that the children were at risk of sexual abuse and had been exposed to grossly inappropriate sexual conduct on the part of their motherand other relatives, including their siblings. DSS recounted that Respondent-mother and the two juveniles had recently relocated from Cumberland County to live with Respondent-mother's mother and stepfather. DSS stated that the home in which Respondent-mother and the children lived was inappropriate in that the stepfather had pled guilty to a sexual offense against a mentally disabled adult, and the maternal grandmother suffered from bipolar disorder and did not understand the nature or extent of Respondent-mother's and the juveniles' problems.
DSS further alleged that the children displayed significant behavioral and emotional problems, noting that K.S.E. had engaged in sexual activity with his cousin. Additionally, DSS stated that both children and a neighbor child had observed Respondent-mother kissing, licking, and caressing pornographic materials. DSS therefore asserted that Respondent-mother could not provide, and the children did not receive, proper care, supervision, or discipline. An order for non-secure custody was entered, and DSS assumed immediate custody of the children. On 18 October 2001, nunc pro tunc 24 August 2001, the children were adjudicated abused, neglected, and dependent juveniles.
Since 21 June 2001, when DSS filed its initial petition and took custody of the children, K.S.E. and B.N.E. have been placed in foster homes, group homes, and hospitals, and given therapy to try and address their special needs, including diagnoses of post- traumatic stress disorder and mild retardation for both children. During that time, Respondent-mother was initially cooperative withDSS, completing a parenting skills course and attending a course for parenting hyperactive children, but she also had difficulty addressing her own mental health needs and was terminated from Dialectical Behavioral therapy due to non-attendance and inappropriate behavior in group sessions. Respondent-mother also entered one-on-one therapy with a psychologist, who diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder.
By May 2002, Respondent-mother had remarried and secured adequate housing for the children; nonetheless, her therapist requested more time prior to returning the children to Respondent- mother, to allow her to gain understanding of their needs and deal with her own mental health issues. Visitation continued, and included in-home therapeutic services for Respondent-mother such as modeling parenting skills while the children visited. However, B.N.E. had only four in-home visits with Respondent-mother before in-home therapy was terminated, and a fire then rendered the home uninhabitable for several months. According to the trial court's findings, Respondent-mother then became secretive and inconsistent in representations about her employment, the stability of her marriage, [and] her compliance with therapy and medication.
The children's visitation with Respondent-mother was suspended in 2005, due to the children's need for a high level of care and their therapist's opinion that visitation would harm their progress. Respondent-mother had also ended her one-on-one therapy with the psychologist provided by DSS but claimed to be seeking treatment at a county mental health center. The trial court alsofound that Respondent-mother's marriage had disintegrated and that she and her husband were separated but had moved to South Carolina, where they were charged with arson and a false insurance claim in April 2006. According to the trial court, Respondent-mother conceded that she could not meet the needs of K.S.E. but sought reunification with B.N.E.
On 31 January 2006, after over four years of failed efforts at reunification of Respondent-mother and the minor children, DSS filed a petition to terminate Respondent-mother's parental rights as to K.S.E. and B.N.E. DSS alleged three grounds for termination, under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(1), (2), and (6), respectively: (1) Respondent-mother had neglected the juveniles; (2) Respondent- mother had willfully left the juveniles in foster care for more than twelve months without showing reasonable progress; and (3) Respondent-mother is incapable of providing for the proper care and supervision of the children, such that they were dependent juveniles, with a reasonable probability that such incapability will continue for the foreseeable future. Following a hearing held on 24 and 25 July 2006, the trial court terminated Respondent- mother's parental rights.
Respondent-mother now appeals, contending that the trial court erred by concluding that (I) the juveniles were neglected, willfully left in foster care for more than twelve months, and dependent because Respondent-mother is incapable of providing proper care and supervision; and (II) terminating Respondent- mother's rights was in the best interest of the children.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1110(a) (2005). The court should take action
which is in the best interests of the juvenile when the
interests of the juvenile and those of the juvenile's parents or
other persons are in conflict. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1100(3)
(2005). As a discretionary decision, the trial court's disposition
order will not be disturbed unless it could not have been the
product of reasoning. In re J.B., 172 N.C. App. 747, 751, 616
S.E.2d 385, 387, aff'd per curiam, 360 N.C. 165, 622 S.E.2d 495
Here, the trial court made a number of findings of fact that relate to the children's best interest, and which are binding on this Court because they were unchallenged by Respondent-mother. Specifically, the trial court referred to the recommendations of John Schenk, the guardian ad litem appointed for the juveniles, as well as those of Mary Mack, the children's therapist. (See footnote 1) The trial court noted that Mr. Schenk had initially, and for two years intothe underlying case, advocated for the reunification of the children with Respondent-mother, as well as for in-home therapy to teach her the necessary skills to handle two disturbed children. Nevertheless, Mr. Schenk later concluded that reunification was no longer appropriate for the children because Respondent-mother could not meet their needs due to her lack of progress and lack of attention to her own mental health needs and her own well-being, employment, and marriage. The trial court likewise noted that Ms. Mack's evaluation of the children mentioned their progress in therapy and their protectiveness toward their mother, but that they do not mention her often. Ms. Mack also determined that it is not in the children's best interest to have visitation with Respondent- mother, as she believed such visitation would set the children back in their progress.
Based on these findings, as well as the trial court's findings regarding the juveniles' special needs, Respondent-mother's lack of stability, and her failure to meet her own needs, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that termination was in the juveniles' best interest.
Judges McCULLOUGH and CALABRIA concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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